Calls about youngsters suspected to have been exploited by sex offenders rose by a third in Lancashire in the wake of the Jimmy Savile inquiry, detectives revealed today.
Around 1,200 referrals are made each year by people concerned about the sexual exploitation of a child, but Lancashire Constabulary saw a 30 per cent rise in calls between April and August - some involving children under 10 years old.
The figures emerged at the start of a week of action by police - including raids on suspected paedophiles - to thwart child sex exploitation and raise awareness of the warning signs among parents, health bosses, teachers and youngsters.
Det Supt Ian Critchley, of Lancashire Police, said that while most of the victims tend to be girls aged between 12 and 15, the force is also investigating offences against children under 10, and has appointed an officer to deal with cases involving young boy victims.
He said: “These crimes can have huge life long consequences for youngsters and their families. There has been considerable national attention on this issue and we have had our own high profile cases such as Stuart Hall.The Jimmy Savile inquiry has really risen the prominence of this so we want to make sure people are aware of the service we provide to victims and families or professionals.”
The force told the Evening Post it investigates around 500 people suspected of grooming or being involved in the exploitation of children each year, and is aiming to bring more to justice by raising awareness of warning signs.
In addition to raids on suspects, the operation will tackle people who put children at risk such as adults who provide alcohol, and the organisations involved will alert a range of people who interact with youngsters and may be able to spot the first signs they are being groomed, such as leisure centres and schools.
The Constabulary prosecuted 100 offenders in the last 12 months for related crimes.
Section 2 Abduction Orders - a warning notice to people of concern to police - were issued to 100 others.
Police revealed most are single white men aged between 20 and 30, but some are in their 60s. Others include gangs of Asian men.
Det Supt Ian Critchley, of Lancashire Police, said: “This issue has been a priority for a number of years and this week is partly about showing the work that is going on. We want to stop sexual exploitation in the first place. We do so by making children and parents aware of the issues, such as how offenders are seeking to target children, and how they can protect themselves.
“If we look for it we will find it.”
Victims come from all ethnicities, though most are white girls. Around eight per cent are boys.
The 1,200 referrals in the last year ranged from concerns someone is being groomed, such as a child who has unexplained gifts, to the vilest sex offences.
Police are concerned in the proliferation of internet grooming, which forms around a fifth of offences they investigate, and usually involves a lone offender. Detectives believe it has been made easier by children’s access to the web via phones.
Det Supt Critchley added: “Almost every secondary school aged child in the county will have access to a mobile phone with the internet, and whilst that provides a lot of opportunities to a young person, we need people to recognise criminals can target children in this way.
Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Ibrahim Master, said: “Chile sex exploitation is a vile, abhorrent crime. Many professionals are aware of the issue but it could be better - we want everyone to be aware of the signs and act.”